The TVA River Bluff Small Wild Area Trail is a National Recreation Trail as well as a Tennessee Scenic Trail, located on the TVA Norris Dam Reservation in Anderson County, TN. The 125-acre site features old growth hardwoods, pine plantations, and rich pockets of wildflowers and ferns, steep bluffs overlooking the mist-covered Clinch River. Although often concealed by lush vegetation, several types of birds and other wildlife inhabit the area. During the end of March and beginning of April, wildflowers are abundant and TVA naturalists lead guided wildflower walks during this time. You can call TVA public land information center 800-882-5263 to learn the schedule.
The River Bluff Trail, a 3.2 mile loop, begins at the parking lot and leads you through three forest types or regions. The trail is signed for easy navigation and requires about three hours hiking time. Some lengthy climbing is required along a moderate grade, so take your time.
The first segment of the trail passes through an area that has been heavily disturbed by humans. The chestnut orchard to the right of the trail near the trailhead was planted to replace the blighted American chestnut. This Asiatic replacement makes poor lumber, but the nuts (also called mast) are good for wildlife food. Look for the gray bark and saw-tooth leaves of the chestnut.
You next enter a stand of shortleaf pines. Notice the condition of many of the trees. Their tops are brown as a result of holes and tunnels that have been cut through their bark by the Southern pine beetle.
The trail drops down near the Clinch River and passes through a mature mesophytic forest that has been little altered by humans. This region is characterized by moisture-loving vegetation. Note that the forest is divided into horizontal layers. The tallest trees, or overstory, include beech, buckeye, maples, tulip poplar, and sycamore. The smaller trees, or understory, include paw paw, dogwood, American hornbeam, and other species. A third layer is composed of low-growing shrubs, herbs, and wildflowers. Most noticeable of all the wildflowers in the spring are the Trout lilies, which cover the slopes of the forest in yellow blossums. Nature lore has it that the trout do not begin to bite until the Trout lilies bloom.
Steep limestone bluffs rise to the right of the lower trail section. The dry rock face of the bluff supports vegetation such as columbine, ferns, and lichens. In contrast, at the base of the bluff abundant wildflowers - Celandine poppies, Squirrel corn, Dutchman's breeches, Dwarf crested iris, and violets favor the wet, alkaline soil rich in nutrients leached downward from the limestone.
The main trail continues along the right fork and begins a gradual climb away from the cool, misty river. This higher region is less sheltered, drier, and usually warmer than the lower river section of the trail. The overstory is now composed of oak, black gum, red cedar, and a larger number of pines. The understory consists of red bud and dogwoods.
A switchback returns you to the beginning of the trail and the parking lot.